When discussing how to best support your sustainability strategy with human capital, it is tempting to assume that the responsibility for driving sustainability programmes will, in the future, continue to sit solely within dedicated sustainability teams.
We don’t believe this will necessarily be the case – we’re already seeing some parallels between the ways companies approach sustainability today with how businesses approached quality in the early days of quality management. Back in the 1980s and 1990s it was not uncommon for organizations to have dedicated teams responsible for safeguarding the quality of a product or service. However, once companies understood the value of ensuring that quality control permeated to all the corners of the business, these teams were often disbanded and replaced by a more integrated approach to quality.
Similarly, it is conceivable that for some organisations the sustainability journey may follow a similar path. For businesses, sustainability is at its heart, a business change problem – potentially the biggest business change problem they will ever face. Whether related to soaring energy prices, scarcity of key raw material inputs, reducing carbon emission or even just attracting and retaining a more sustainability conscious workforce, over the next few decades every business on the planet will have to adapt to new economic and environmental realities. The key to future success will be flexibility, adaptability, and particularly the ability to manage change.
Like with the evolution of quality management, we expect to see companies taking a more integrated approach to delivering their sustainability goals rather than simply relying on a separate, stand-alone department. Coming back to human capital, this is going to require many more people skilled in initiating change and delivering complex transformation projects in addition to their day to day functional expertise and responsibilities.
And finally, what about Sustainability Professionals – am I predicting my own extinction? The short answer is not in the short to medium term. We believe that while the external drivers of sustainability continue to develop and evolve as rapidly as they are currently doing, businesses will still need the central capability to translate these external drivers and, working with the executive team, integrate the business’ response into the corporate strategy.